Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Choice Words About Many CDs (Part 1)

Sometimes it can be easier to recommend music than to write longer reviews, especially when time is tight.  These disks are so good that I can't resist a paragraph (or 2) about them.

The "swing" beat is irresistible on the opening track of "This Could be the Start of Something Big", the debut release by Andy Farber and his Orchestra (Black Warrior Records). Farber leads this 18-piece ensemble through its paces on the 14 tracks.  Jon Hendricks vocalizes and scats in front of the band on the title track (along with his daughter Aria and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke) and the results are so joyous one cannot help but smile.  Hendricks also "cuts a rug" on "Roll 'Em Pete", taken at a pace that would break lesser singers.  The ballads are heart-felt and smartly arranged, especially the group's take on Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety" (featuring a fine trumpet break from Kenny Rampton.) Most of the solos are short (kudos to the clarinet work of Dan Block) yet filled with ideas and the blend of originals and standards classy. If you like the sophisticated sounds of Duke Ellington and the bluesy qualities of the Count Basie Band, Andy Farber's aggregation will make you smile.  To find out more, go to www.andyfarber.com

Chantale Gagné, a native of Quebec, Canada, has created a CD of music that sparkles, shimmers and grows even better with subsequent listens.  "Wisdom of the Water" is comprised of 9 tracks played by the pianist and her fine band that features vibraphonist Joe Locke, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash.  Just seeing those names on cover lets you know this will be class music.  Ms. Gagné is a facile pianist but one who never favors technique over substance. Yes, several tracks really swing, such as "Squinky Pete" and the trio take (no vibes) on "I Shall Not Be Moved", but it's her fine, lyrical, playing and interactions with the band that impresses one the most.  Her work shines on "The Light We Need", especially where she meshes her sound with Locke as well as her sweet solo. Two solo pieces are also included, the short and bouncy "Roseline" and the lovely ballad "Lullaby For Winter" (with its melody reminiscent of light snow falling).  Listen once and you'll like this music immediately;  play it again and you'll be hooked, smitten by the clean, clear, sounds (and the splendid work of the rhythm section).  For more information, go to www.chantalegagne.com.  

Trombonist/composer Wayne Wallace had a very good 2010 - his fine recording "Bien Bien" was nominated for a GRAMMY ( his 3rd such honor) and received numerous positive reviews.  The new year brings "To Hear From There", his 7th release for the Bay Area-based Patois Records and it's another first-rate set of tunes.  The Quintet, comprised of Murray Low (piano), David Belove (electric bass), Paul van Wageningen (trap set) and Michael Spiro (percussion), are equal partners in the proceedings and you can tell - this music is so alive.  Wallace's trombone sound is rich and full and his solos swing, strut and croon.  When he mixes his phrases with Belove's active bass lines, the music really takes off.  The program blends strong originals with intelligent "covers" such as "The Peanut Vendor" (fine throaty vocal from guest Bobi Céspedes and splendid montuno piano from Low) and Juan Tizol's "Perdido" (Kenny Washington adds his distinctive voice on this swinging take.) There's neither a weak nor dull moment among the 11 tracks, Wallace's buttery trombone lines are addictive, Low's piano work sparkles and the rhythm section sizzles and smokes.  If "¡Bebo Ya Llego!" doesn't make you smile and want to dance, call your doctor immediately.  If the lovely take of J.J. Johnson's "Lament", doesn't melt your soul, there may be no hope. Seriously, Latin Jazz does not get better than this.  For more information, go to either www.patoisrecords.com or www.walacomusic.com

The joy of jazz is that there are always new artists to discover.  Saxophonist Benjamin Drazen graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in the mid-1990s and returned to his native New York City.  He's played funk, Latin music, r'n'b and lots of jazz.  His debut recording "Inner Flights" shows up on the Posi-Tone Records label, quickly becoming the home for good, straight-ahead, jazz. Drazen, joined by pianist Jon Davis, bassist Carlo De Rosa and drummer Eric McPherson, has created a program that blends hard-bop with the searching aspects of John Coltrane's music.  The sound is clean and uncluttered, his alto and soprano sax playing filled with swift, clearly articulated lines with a supporting cast that is solid, creative, and in sync. Pianist Davis, best known for his work with the late Jaco Pastorious as well as the Joris Teepe Band and Beatle Jazz, is a fine player;  his solos on pieces like "This Is New"  and "Monkish" are fresh and entertaining.  His accompaniment on the contemplative ""Prayer for Brothers Gone" and sweetly turned "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" is welcome and free of cliche.  Drazen is playful on "Jazz Heaven", filled with twists, bent notes and rapid-fire phrases. He shows his fiery side after moving to soprano on the Coltrane-inspired title track (also featuring excellent support from McPherson and hardy bass work from De Rosa.) 
One gets the feeling Benjamin Drazen waited some time before stepping out on his own, building a solid repertoire and working on his mechanics. It's been worth the wait for this music has well-shaped melodic and harmonic ideas without feeling forced or immature.  "Inner Flights" is a promising beginning to Drazen's solo career as a leader; let's hope for many more flights.  For more information, go to www.benjamindrazen.com or go to www.posi-tone.com
Take a sonic ride to "Jazz Heaven" courtesy of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet;
Jazz Heaven (mp3)

PS - I have added music to my reviews of Alexis Cuadrado's "Noneto Iberico" and Ralph Bowen's "Power Play" -check it out here and here.

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